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WAKEFIELD

Not Codrescu’s best, but nevertheless one of his wisest, most engaging books.

A rootless writer-lecturer cuts a deal with the Devil in this latest comic romp from the prolific poet, essayist, NPR commentator, and novelist (Casanova in Bohemia, 2002, etc.).

The eponymous Wakefield (namesake of the Hawthorne character who abandons his life for 20 years before impulsively reentering it) persuades Satan to give him extra time to discover his “authentic life” (i.e., vocation, purpose, allegiance). For Wakefield is an intellectual drifter: an aficionado of architecture’s utilitarian element (a self-proclaimed “cartographer of lost space”), abused for his political indifference by his fiery Romanian ex-wife Marianna, passively debating morality vs. Epicureanism with his Russian émigré cabdriver buddy Zamyatin. The plot—which is really only a vehicle for Codrescu’s riffs on trendy topics du jour (e.g., conspicuous consumption, American insularity, sexual gameswomanship, New Age clichés)—is rather reminiscent of its author’s nonfiction travelogue Road Scholar (1993). As Satan (amusingly imagined as an overburdened, caustic CEO) keeps metamorphosing and dropping by to monitor his prey, Wakefield journeys to the northern midwestern town of Typical, to speak on “Money and Poetry” to employees of an Orwellian software conglomerate (“The Company”); ruffles left-wing feathers at the World Art Museum in the “Wintry City” (manifestly Chicago); espouses political incorrectness throughout southwestern and southern California venues; then returns home, as uncommitted to ideologies and –isms as ever, to restructure his contract with The Infernal One. Wakefield isn’t much of a novel, but it’s populated with strong-willed yet sexually compliant women, graced by droll deadpan observations on miscellaneous American madnesses, and—in its protagonist’s growing conviction that “there is something disappearing from the world, something composed of many instances of tradition and skill”—a serious note of knowing lamentation for imperiled cultures everywhere.

Not Codrescu’s best, but nevertheless one of his wisest, most engaging books.

Pub Date: May 21, 2004

ISBN: 1-56512-372-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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